10 May 2016 2 Ways to Boost Your Iron Intake without Supplements

What is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world? Even though most of the trending nutrition talk today is about omega three fatty acids, vitamin D, calcium and magnesium, the most common nutrient deficiency in the world is iron. Iron is a mineral that is needed to carry oxygen throughout your body. Iron deficient anemia affects over 3 million Americans, making it the most common blood disorder in the U.S.

Even though everyone is at risk for iron deficient anemia, these populations are at greatest risk:

  • Women during their childbearing years
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • Young Children
  • Adolescent Girls
  • Athletes
  • Vegans/Vegetarians

One of my clients experienced this,

"I was diagnosed with anemia after my first child. I was pale, very fatigued, I had no energy. I would fall asleep while breastfeeding, which is really how tired it made me. My whole body felt like it would just collapse because my muscles felt so weak. I started eating more lean beef, red meat and snacking on turkey and kale."

What are the most common symptoms of iron deficiency?

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Weakness/sluggishness
  • Decreased brain function - dizziness and difficulty concentrating
  • Irritable
  • Pale skin and fingernails

However, because these symptoms could also be common for other health issues, diagnosis by a blood test is essential to confirm iron deficiency anemia.

If you have an iron deficiency or are worried that you might have an iron deficiency, start by following these two quick and easy tips.

1. Focus on eating foods that are iron rich from both animal and plant sources

When you think of iron rich foods, the first thing you probably think of is liver. Yes, liver is an excellent source of iron; however, there are many other animal foods and plant foods that are also good sources of iron.

Some of the best animal sources are:

  • Mollusks: clams, cuttlefish, octopus, oysters, and mussels
  • Llver
  • Kidneys
  • Duck
  • Beef
  • Turkey - dark meat
  • Chicken - dark meat

Some of the best plant sources are:

  • Beans
    • pinto, lentils, soybeans and kidney beans
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
    • spinach, kale and Swiss chard
  • Fortified and enriched breakfast cereals
    • General Mills Total and Kellogg's Product 19
  • Whole grain and enriched grains
    • breads, rice, quinoa and couscous

2. Boost Iron Absorption by eating an iron rich food and a food high in vitamin C at every meal.

Your body absorbs the iron from animal sources 2 to 3 times better than from plant sources. However, you can increase the iron absorption from plant sources in two ways. If you eat meat, fish or poultry in the same meal as plant sources of iron, the percentage of iron absorbed from the plant source increases. Also, if you eat or drink a food rich in vitamin C at the same meal, you can also increase the iron absorption from the plant source.

For example:

  • Choose breakfast cereals that are fortified or enriched with iron. Drink a glass of orange juice with your cereal at breakfast or add some berries. The OJ and berries help increase the percentage of iron that is absorbed from the grains in the breakfast cereal. Note: Many granolas are not high in iron, please read the label.
  • For a morning snack, try a piece of beef or turkey jerky and dried apricots or figs.
  • For lunch, eat spaghetti with tomato sauce and hamburger. The vitamin C in the tomatoes and the hamburger help increase the percentage of iron that is absorbed from the spaghetti. Choose a spinach salad with dried cranberries instead of a lettuce salad to boost your iron intake.
  • For snack, add dried fruit and nuts to your favorite muffin or cookie recipe. The vitamin C in the dried fruit will help increase the iron absorption in the flour in the muffin.
  • For supper, add cooked beans or lentils to stew, soups or casseroles. Especially if you have a tomato base and a few pieces of meat, the amount of iron absorbed from the beans will be increased. Oven-roasted kale is a delicious iron rich side dish.

By trying these two quick and simple tips of eating iron rich foods from both animal and plant sources and combining an iron rich food and vitamin C rich food at every meal, you can help increase the iron levels in your blood. Remember though, since the lifespan of a red blood cell is 120 days, it may take up to 4 months of intentional eating before your energy levels are back up to normal and your symptoms disappear.

Start today by eating a bowl of iron-rich breakfast cereal and a glass of orange juice!

Martha M. Henze, MS, RDN, Traveling Tastes Buds, LLC

Martha lives in Colorado and enjoyed cheering on the Denver Broncos during their Super Bowl win in the Super Bowl 50.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


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